I’m a sucker for werewolf movies, which means I’ve seen a lot of bad ones over the years.Late Phases (2014) is not among that ilk, I’m happy to report.
Before I even knew its subject, I was drawn to the movie by its director and its star. The director Adrian Garcia Bogliano (a Spanish filmmaker), wrote and directed Here Comes the Devil (2013), a chilling, original horror film about a husband and wife whose two lost children are found, safe but not sound. Nick Damici is a talented writer, too, who sometimes doubles as an actor, particularly when collaborating with filmmaker Jim Mickle in movies like Mulberry Street (2006), Stake Land (2010), and We Are What We Are (2013).
In Late Phases, Damici plays crotchety blind Vietnam vet Ambrose McKinley, who moves with his seeing-eye dog into a retirement community after his wife’s death. His first night there he discovers there’s a werewolf on the loose. (I know, I know — it sounds silly, but the concept works in context.) Since no one else suspects a thing, it’s up to Ambrose to prepare for the creature’s appearance upon the next full moon. In the meantime, he tries to discover the monster’s human counterpart.
Damici shines as the blind protagonist, aided by an interesting supporting cast including Tom Noonan (Manhunter), writer/director Larry Fassenden, and Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island). Eric Stolze’s script is a clever whodunit up to a point — until the beast is revealed — and then continues with some unexpected twists right up to the final confrontation. Rather than relying on CGI, like The Wolf Man with Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro, the filmmakers rely on prosthetics and makeup for the lycanthrope effects. It’s not state-of-the-art, but it’s not bad, either.
Besides, the real strength of Late Phases is its character development, particularly Damici’s especially worthy performance. Ambrose McKinley is a conflicted man whose painful relationship with his grown son is plumbed effectively without distracting us from the main business of the day, which is fangs and fur.
Late Phases reminded me of another unusual werewolf film, which has just been given a sparkling makeover in Blu-ray. Ginger Snaps, a 2000 Canadian film, was the offspring of writer Karen Walton and director John Fawcett, both whom would reunite again in similar capacities for episodes of TV’s Orphan Black, of which Fawcett was co-creator.
A bloody black comedy about puberty, menstruation, and werewolves, Ginger Snaps focuses on two sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), as they try to navigate high school hell. Outsiders by choice, the girls are also fixated on death and suicide, which become the subject of several creative projects, not unlike those embraced by the forlorn young hero of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude.
Bitten by a werewolf, Ginger starts to change, much to the dismay of the younger, more withdrawn Brigitte. As Ginger’s aggression grows beyond the sexual to the violent, poor Brigitte is forced to enlist the aid of the local teen dope dealer for a possible cure. Meanwhile, the girls’ clueless mother (Mimi Rogers in a wonderful comic performance) can’t make heads or tails (even though Ginger is growing one!) of what’s going on.
In tone, Ginger Snaps resembles Heathers more than anything else, though with considerably more gore. The two young actresses are perfect, and Walton/Fawcett’s linking of horror and puberty (though not new, as Carrie can attest) is still unusual.
A sequel and a prequel followed in 2004 — Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (with a young Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black) and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning. Both are worth a look, but the first is still the best.